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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Olympic Stadium: Hitler's Architecture

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

The Olympic Stadium in Berlin is an architectural wonder. Serving as the stage for Hitler's 1936 Games, it provides a dual perspective much to the intrigue of its visitors.

The Olympic Stadium Worths a Visit and Is a Personal Favorite.

Three years following the inception of a totalitarian regime in Germany, Berlin played host to the Summer Olympic Games of 1936. For this grand event, an arena resembling timeless empires was constructed, adhering to the principles of National Socialist neo-classicism. Directed by the architect Werner March, with aesthetic contributions from Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler's confidant and favored architect, the stadium encapsulated the aspirations of dominance and the racist myth of Germanic identity in stone. The revered director Leni Riefenstahl sanctified the site by filming a propaganda movie there, showcasing her cinematic brilliance.

Unscathed during the war, the stadium, situated in West Berlin, was used by the British occupation forces for various military parades. Since the Cold War era, it has been the home ground for the football matches of Hertha Berlin, drawing crowds of 70,000 spectators, along with hosting the annual German Football Cup final and various athletics competitions. Furthermore, it frequently accommodates concerts and cultural events.

Yet, the architectural essence of the Third Reich persists, and despite the numerous sports, cultural, and festive celebrations, the architectural codes remain intact.

A Disconcerting Architecture

Descending and expanding in depth, the complex, despite its imposing dimensions, is monumental in its spread. Its limestone-supported colonnade system conveys a sense of timelessness and solemnity. The only color present is the blue athletic track representing the resident football team. Except for the roof sheltering the stands and the seating on the terraces, the stadium retains much of its original configuration. Only the Marathon Gate partially opens the stadium, revealing the Olympic bell tower.

As one strolls around the stadium, one can't miss the German oak tree, the Germanic columns, and the Olympic bell cast for the 1936 Games. These enduring symbols of National Socialism, though partially sanitized, are not to be overlooked. A monumental, martial alley pays tribute to victorious German athletes from each Olympiad with a series of steles.

The erstwhile Olympic pools, now transformed into a stunning yet eerie public swimming pool overshadowed by looming tiers of rugged, Germanic stone, are no longer accessible to the public. Lastly, the vast May Field, the location of Hitler Youth's gymnastic sessions, surrounded by deserted stands of a bygone era, and fronting a massive terreplein, the platform for officials' speeches, becomes visible. It is not merely a sports arena.

A Guided Tour is Recommended

The dual identity of the Olympic Stadium as a prominent sports arena and an architectural embodiment of Hitler's regime and ambitions is still under debate. However, any visit to the Olympic Stadium should be undertaken with an understanding that architecture is not neutral, and in this case, it's representative of the Third Reich. The layout of the site, combined with the prevalent symbols, presents stark contrasts to the light-hearted contemporary usage of the premises. This paradox presents a disquieting blending of categories and dichotomy.

Nevertheless, as ideologically influenced as the stadium's architecture might be, it is equally magnificent and awe-inspiring. The aesthetic norms and standards are splendidly realized, making the stadium a must-visit for both history enthusiasts and architecture aficionados. Notably, visitors are granted a degree of freedom to independently explore both the exterior and interior of the stadium. It is unfortunate that on some days less than half of the areas can be explored due to scaffolding for concert arrangements. The basements are only accessible through guided tours facilitated by the visitor services.

Reasons to Visit

  • Magnificent and monumental architecture

  • The last vestige of National Socialism in Berlin

  • Relative freedom for individual exploration

  • Excellent public transport connections

Reasons to Skip

  • An unsettling blend of categories

  • Areas unpredictably closed to the public


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